asia · south korea · Travel

Seoul (Part 2: The heart and Soul of Seoul)

Welcome to any new followers and welcome back to my current followers, I hope you’ve been enjoying my posts so far.  In my previous post about Seoul I talked about some of the food and markets in Seoul, you can read ‘Seoul Food’ here.  For this post I am going to focus more on sightseeing in Seoul, starting with perhaps the most impressive attraction Seoul has to offer, Gyeongbokgung Palace.

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Built in 1395 Gyeongbokgung Palace is also known as the Northern Palace as it holds the most northern position of all the palaces in Seoul, it suffered during the Imjin war (1592-1598) where it was destroyed at the hands of the Japanese.  Gyeongbokgung Palace is regarded as the most impressive palace in Seoul, an impressive relic of the Joseon Dynasty.

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Continuing on with the palace theme, Changdeokgung Palace Complex is another incredibly impressive piece of architecture.  We saw Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace Complex in the same day and I imagine this would be a relatively easy task for some of the more organised individuals out there, but for me and Max who had perhaps spent a little too much time getting drunk in the jjimjilbang the night before, seeing both was a bit of a struggle so we literally ran from one to the other.

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Changdeokgung Palace Complex was ordered to be constructed in the 15th century during the Joseon Dynasty by King Taejong.  The buildings are constructed out of wood on top of stone platforms, the complex is built on a 58 hectare site and consists of a number of beautifully decorated buildings, all of which are very well preserved, I’d highly recommend anyone visiting Seoul to take a trip here.

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Above is a statue of King Sejong The Great, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty, this is the king who you will see on the back of a 10,000 Won banknote.  He is to this day praised for his support of the Hangul alphabet (the alphabet currently used in Korea) – Chinese characters where used prior to the invention of the Hangul alphabet.

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If you haven’t heard me mention it before, my fiancee Becky and I are absolutely infatuated with Korean movies, especially some of the historical films like ‘The Throne‘; the picture above is one I took within one of the buildings inside Changdeokgung Palace Complex; it is so unusual as I have seen places like this in movies and it almost transported me back in time to when the king would have been sat in his throne and his ministers would have been standing on the floor below him advising him on various affairs of the kingdom.

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So, after a busy day of hopping from one palace to the next you’re going to want to kick back with some Korean rice wine and some street food, so I advise heading over to the best street food area in Seoul, Gwangjang market, this place is full of hundreds of different stalls where you can get a wide array of street food.  We went for some Kimchi dumplings, some noodles and mungbean pancakes with a healthy serving of kimchi – all washed down with some rice wine.  When you hear me mention rice wine, the stuff we were having was this white, translucent rice wine which was fairly strong, dangerously easy to drink and delicious, needless to say we became a little legless on a few occasions.

There is no better way to finish off a night in Seoul is to walk through the old parts of town as the sun is setting, so that’s exactly what we did.

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I intended on going through Seoul in one part but that again proved to be a difficult task so I will conclude Seoul with the third small part about visiting the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone).

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the jjimjilbang.  Jjimjilbangs are Korean bathhouses that you can stay in, we used these as our accommodation as it was the cheapest, and easily the most fun place to stay in Seoul.  Outside the jjimjilbang kind of looked like some sort of casino with all the neon lights and a queue of people waiting to get in.  Inside you will find saunas of varying temperatures, hot pools, cold pools, ice rooms, restaurants and the big open spaces with heated floors which is where you sleep, if you choose to stay in night that is, I think most Koreans just go after work to chill for a few hours.  Admittedly, we didn’t really play by the rules during our stay but we also didn’t choose an upscale jjimjilbang for this reason which is why people didn’t seem too fussed.  In jjimjilbangs no clothing is supposed to be worn, not even a swimsuit, there are dicks all over the place and I imagine in the female section of the jjimjilbang it’s a similar situation minus all the penises.  Well, we both kept our swimming shorts on for the duration, we also kicked back with a bottle of rice wine when we were in the hot pool, which was maybe pushing our luck, but the few guys who were in there didn’t see a problem and chuckled away.

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Bad photo I know, but I wasn’t exactly going to whip my DSLR out and start photographing sleeping people, but this gives you an idea of what it’s like to sleep in a jjimjilbang.  Just get a little tipsy on rice wine and let the heated floor take you away and you’ll sleep just fine 🙂

Goodnight

Matt

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